Do I need a PLB? – Not till you get injured – David’s story

The sound of helicopter rotor blades was music to the ears of badly injured walker David Briese recently. 

David was in a group enjoying a picturesque walk in a remote area on the far side of Mt Bogong, Victoria’s highest mountain, in the Alpine National Park.  The four day circuit was to see them climb to the summit of Mt Bogong, explore the surrounding ridges, spurs and valleys, then rejoin the track to return via Mountain Creek.

But a simple stumble left David with two completely broken ankle bones more than a day’s walk away from medical treatment.

After a great day that had included some hard climbing, David’s world ‘went pear-shaped’ when the toe of his boot dragged, causing his leg to roll forward on the steep path, and his whole weight to come down on his twisting ankle.  The nauseating sound of bones breaking was quickly followed by excruciating pain that rolled over him, collapsing him to the path.

Cursing himself for his stupidity, David was on the point of the track at the bottom of a deep ravine and there was no way he could walk out.  But this was his lucky day, as one of the group had been smart enough to take a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) with them, which was activated to summons help once the severity of David’s break was realised. 

 The sound of the rescue helicopter was soon heard through the valley, homing in on the regular beep of the PLB indicating David’s exact location.  Unable to land on the steep terrain where David had fallen, the paramedic had to be winched 60m down to his patient.  With his leg splinted, and calming shots of morphine and Maxalon cursing through his veins to dull the pain, David was winched out and flown to Albury Hospital, for surgery to pin the tibia and screw the fibula in his double fractured limb.

David says that without the PLB he would have been in dire straits, as he definitely could not have walked out. He has since bought his own PLB, and become an advocate for all walkers who venture into remote areas to carry a PLB for safety.

 As he says, ‘All it takes is one slip …..’

David contacted us to encourage everyone who travels into remote areas to carry a PLB. It is excellent advice, please follow it.

You can read David’s fascinating account of his walk and rescue, accompanied by a fabulous set of photographs of that beautiful walk, on his website Walking the High Country.

Do you always carry a PLB?

Have you ever had to set one off?

We would love to hear your story and ideas, leave a reply below.

Addendum from Georgie:  The Australian Maritime Safety Authority have a fabulous web site with lots of very useful information about 406MHz Distress Beacons and GPSs.  Take a minute to check it out on www.amsa.gov.au/beacons.   Good info if you are looking to buy a unit, a FAQ brochure, and free registration to enable an even quicker response if you ever have need to set yours off.  Well worth a look.  Regards, Georgie.

Comments

  1. says

    I have a PLB, I would never walk without one. I do a mixture of on-trail and off-trail walking. I do off-trail stuff, sometimes a week without seeing anyone outside our walking party, in areas with no mobile services and pastoral stations several days walk away – certainly a not-negotiable for taking a PLB. But on ANY hike I will take it, whilst an extra 300g is not nothing, it is something that you very much want to have, but want to not need to use. I bought a Spot Tracker which is a very cost effective way to get an PLB, about $100 US to purchase, $115 pa service fee. And as many people will know, also useful to keep family members up to date with your daily camp location.

  2. says

    I have a PLB(with GPS), and before that an EPIRB on the old system. As well as that I carry an Iridium Sat phone. I walk a lot alone, and I have had simple falls that could have ended, in different circumstances, exactly like this story. A PLB is so light. I always think the worst thing that can happen to me if I am forced to set it off, is embarrassment. I use the Sat Phone to tweet (via twitter) my position everyday, so people know how I am, and where I am. One Sat Phone battery is plenty for two weeks, just turned on once a day. I think back to hiking years ago in the Gammon Ranges in South Australia where you needed at least three walkers to be safe. Solo bushwalking was just too dangerous. However now with the security of a PLB, you can do things alone, that you could never have safely done twenty years ago.

  3. Steve Went says

    I hired a PLB from EPIRBhire (great service)when my family and I did the Overland Track. Even though we saw a lot of people on the track, it was a welcome addition had one of my children been bitten by a snake. I couldn’t imagine trying to carry them to safety with venom coursing throudgh their veins. You always hope you’ll never need one if you have the correct preparation for a trip but as Davids story shows, things happen and when you are in that situation you would pay any money to have one. The hire service was great as I couldn’t justify buying one for the few trips we do, it was posted overnight when we hired it and simply posted it back when we finished our trip.

  4. Alex Scott says

    Not trying to advertise here, but I have a Kannad 406 PLB.. Cost me $$700 from Bogong Equiptment, and is the best thing I have ever purchased!

    I’ve never had to use it, but it does allow me to go into remote areas, ie Big River below Bogong, with that safety factor that a Mobile Phone, Sat phone or Trunking Radio just cant offer…

    While a Sat Phone is good if you have a clear view to the sky, what if you need help in a gorge (Moroka, Big River) or heavily tree’ed area?

    The only downside to the PLB I see is it is a ‘BIG RED BUTTON’ type of situation. There are many times where situations pop up that are an issue, but not life threatening, and where a sat phone call to parks or family is needed..

    Saying that, I wouldn’t go out into the bush area without it, as David says ‘it only takes one slip’

    • Tiz Murray says

      I have a Spot unit which enables me to send ‘I’m travelling safely’ or ‘I need a little help’ messages to pre ordained contacts. Sometimes you don’t need emergency help, but a bit of assistance, eg, from Parks Rangers, the Spot Messenger allows you a bit of flexibility in this way.

  5. jez_au says

    Hey Alex, regardless, a sat phone or PLB require satellite coverage yeah? PLBs use satellite not radio? I’m not entirely sure, I know the Spot Tracker uses satellite – no radio frequency. I thought the new ones use satellite and the older radio frequency? But I don’t really know…

    • says

      PLB can be picked up by 22 different low-orbit satellites, so you would be unlucky not to be picked up immediately. They send bursts every 50 seconds. If you have one with a GPS, then only one signal has to get through, as it transmits your GPS position. As for Sat Phones, you do need some clear sky for speech, but you can get away with much less, especially with just text messages. I have no problems sending text messages from inside a tent camped under trees.

  6. Anthony Wilson says

    Hi I totally agree with David, it only takes one slip. I was rescued by Helimed1 only a couple of weeks after David. I was at Mt Wills and had slipped and broken my lower leg. As luck would have it we were not far from the Hut. Were we had dropped our packs off. Sent my mate back to the Hut to get items to help. While he was gone I fell into shock . Luckly again when my mate got back to the hut. The Omeo Policeman was at the hut in his 4×4. When my mate returned to me with the policeman I was not well, pale ,gray and in a wave of ausea and pain. Omeo and Mitta Mitta SES were called and Ambulance Dispatched. But Avice was given that were I was was to remote and steep. A Helicopter was called in instead. The Helicopter had trouble locating us. They had to winch down the paramatic and then find somwhere to land (low On Fuel.) The SES people that had arrived now cleared the old helipad back at the hut with chainsaws. Nick the same paramatic as David had treated me with the Meds and splint.
    I was winched up and taken to Albury Base Hospital. Plate and screws in lower tibia and ankle. Still in a boot with crutchers NOW FOR 8 WEEKS AND ONGOING
    I will be getting a PLB before I go bushwalking again. It would have saved a lot of people and been a lot quicker.
    Lastly I need to thank All involved. A lot of people, my mate Steve , Gavin the policeman , Nick the paramatic and helmed1 crew, both the Omeo and Mitta Mitta SES. The Local Ambulance crew. Doctors , nurses and the Surgeon. And anyone else THANKS

    PLEASE ALWAYS CARRY A PLB ( It my save a lot of people)

    P.S We did have MOB phone reception and used it , But a PLB would have helped the Helicopter find us alot quicker

  7. Jin says

    Hi guys, i’m a design student and im currently working on a concept PLB. It is an “Armband” PLB where you strap it on top of your clothes. The concept i am proposing is that the PLB monitors movement (and focus on scenarios: What if you were paralyzed?, What if you were unconscious? on a solo hike so how does a PLB know the user is in critical need for help?).

    The idea is that if there is no movement in the product 3-5 minutes when turned on (strapped on = PLB ON, and strapped off = PLB OFF) it will notify the user its about to send a distress signal. There is also a manual button where you can trigger the PLB instantly.

    Other ideas i had was
    – Voice activation, eg Alpha (beep PLB recognizes the word), Don (beep….), Zeta (beep..) distress signal sent.
    – Monitor heart rate and send heart rate when PLB sends co-ordinates every 50 seconds so SAR have an idea what condition the user is in so they can prepare for the situation

    I would love some feedback from anyone about this concept and if they would like to add some constructive criticism :)

  8. Simone says

    We have young children so we feel a great responsibility to make sure we get back safely (and not to take too many risks). We had a freaky “Where exactly are we?” experience last summer. We knew roughly where we were but not exactly. What troubled us the most was that we were out of mobile range and had given our parents (the grandparents) instructions to contact emergency services if we didn’t call them by a certain time. So we had to choose between continuing our adventure exploring or heading back the way we had come rather than completing the planned circuit. We were absolutely fine but didn’t want to waste other people’s time hunting for us. Since we usually go walking just the two of us, and don’t have ‘extra people’ to get help if there is a real emergency, we decided to take the the plunge and get a PLB with GPS. That way our family knows if we are in trouble it will be all rescue and no search. Its a lot of peace of mind for only 119g. We are hoping there will never be a need to activate it!

    We did look at a SPOT or satphone, but the PLB was light and easy, giving our GPS coordinates. We hired a satphone for our recent trip on the Overland Track so we could say goodnight to our kids each night as we’ve never been away from them for more than 2 nights before. We probably won’t do that again. The poor reception drove us crazy and it did take away a bit from our ‘away from it all’ experience.

    Jin, your product idea sounds interesting from a safety point of view. You’d need a ‘monitoring’ mode for walking and a completely ‘off’ mode (with manual activation) for when people are sleeping. Personally I’d love to see the convergence of PLB/GPS + SMStext-SPOT + satphone-calling technologies in the size of an armband or wristwatch.

    • says

      Sat phone reception in Tasmania is notoriously bad, the satellites pass further to the north, so the angle from ground to satellite is quite large, resulting in poor reception or reception problems.

      • Simone says

        Jez, that pretty much sums it up. We could get text messages through but our phone calls kept dropping out. And carrying a brick-like phone does not fit in that well with our lightweight pack philosophy. Still, it was great to get away and we loved Tasmania.

  9. says

    The Iridium Satphone network satelites have polar orbits. So the further south you get the better the reception. As I said before, I have an old model iridium and can send texts inside a tent under trees.

  10. says

    I never really thought id need an epirb, i’ve been hiking since I was in scouts. But i took a friend on a easy day hike once. A few weeks later, which was news to me he had taken a pair of lady’s on a somewhat difficult hike in the blue mountains. No gear, just water. Because an avalanche had taken out the trail they were forced to stay out on the track (on the coldest night in the blue mountains that year) alone, no fire, no light, no phone reception. They somehow survived that night but after that i gave him a mouthful for the zero gear and purchased an epirb and a space blanket straight away. I hope i’ll never need the epirb but i now take it with me on all hikes and any 4WD adventures. it’s just 300 grams.

  11. Mary says

    I carry a PLB on every hike and wouldn’t hike without one. Fortunately, have only used it to track my location on google maps so far.

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